Gavia immer

Common loon. ©DUC

For anyone who spends time during summer in Canada’s northern lake country, the solitary call of the common loon is as much a part of the experience as fresh air.

Depending on the time of day, the loon’s call ranges from a sound somewhere between a yodel and a laugh, to a plaintive wailing that can be heard for long distances across the water. The expressions “looney”, or “crazy as a loon” are often related to the behaviour of this large water bird.

Appearance

  • About two times larger than a mallard duck
  • A mature common loon sports a formal black and white appearance that is as highly recognized as its call
  • The loon’s head and pointed bill are black and offset by red eyes.
  • The neck features a collar of short white vertical stripes.
  • The long body is checkered black and white on top and the underside is a silvery white.
  • Rarely seen anywhere but on more temperate coastal areas during winter, the loon becomes hardly recognizable with a dull grey body, a dingy white throat and brownish eyes during this season.

Breeding

  • Nests are usually started in June and are generally constructed with pieces of floating vegetation and placed on a sheltered point directly on the water’s edge so the nesting loon can quickly reach the water when threatened.
  • Loons are rarely seen near their nests. To protect the nest they desert it well before a predator arrives and distract the intruder by appearing far out on the water.
  • Usually two dark greenish or brownish eggs camouflaged with darker spots are laid and both birds take shifts on the nest, incubating for about 30 days.
  • When hatched, young loons are thickly covered in dark brown down and can swim immediately, though they are frequently seen riding on their parent’s backs during their first few weeks.

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